Imagine a basketball. An everyday, ordinary basketball sitting perfectly still on an empty court. Now visualize a player — let's go with Diana Taurasi of the WNBA's Phoenix Mercury. She saunters out to midcourt, her shoes squeaking against the hardwood planks. Then Taurasi bends down, grabs the ball, stands back up and raises it over her head.
You have just witnessed an increase in the ball's potential energy.
For the record, this is just one of the many types of energy we encounter on a daily basis. There's also kinetic energy, electrical energy, thermal energy and so on.
This begs a fundamental question. Scientifically, what is energy? What does that word mean in the context of physics, chemistry, engineering and related STEM fields?
Here's the definition you're most likely to hear in your Advanced Placement courses or find in a textbook:
"Energy is the ability to do work."
Taken by itself that sentence might seem kind of vague and not especially helpful. But don't worry, we're here to help you unpack it.